I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while (yes, I know this blog is only a month old, but it’s not my first blog.) It concerns the upcoming Tomb Raider, which is a “reboot” of the series (the third of which, I believe) showing that video game developers, too, can suffer from a lack of thought the same way Hollywood does. There is currently a sale of the three most recent games in the series on Steam, which prompted me to write this post.
While there still aren’t a lot of details available for the game, which isn’t due out until the 3rd quarter of next year, one aspect of the game has been heavily promoted by the developers: Lara Croft is “vulnerable.” The promotional art has stressed how very dirty and bloody Lara Croft can look. I’m honestly not sure which is worse; the overtly sexual appearance the character was well known for or this one which might be fetishizing the harm that’s done to her. The portrayal is made especially egregious when you consider that Nathan Drake, the protagonist of the Uncharted series which is often regarded as a male version of Lara Croft (who was herself a female version of Indiana Jones), has never been given the same kind of treatment. This is despite the fact that the demo and opening of Uncharted 2 focused on him having a seemingly fatal gunshot to the stomach as he wandered about a snow-strewn mountaintop on the verge of death. The whole time the character made quips and was decidedly invulnerable. Compare that to this footage shown at E3 2011 where Lara is constantly moaning & panting (some would say suggestively) and voicing her dread and fear about what’s happening. When Drake was at his most vulnerable he was still cocky and totally in control; in that stage where the character hobbled along because of his injury he still managed to climb trains, throw bombs, and shoot dozens of enemies. Emotionally the most vulnerable the character ever became was when he had to choose to between having a relationship with the hot brunette or the hot blonde. In contrast, Lara Croft is reduced to a whimpering rag doll so we can marvel at how effectively they can simulate a broken arm. It’s right there in the game’s tagline of “A Survivor is Born.” Lara Croft has ceased to be a heroine, someone who actively engages in her situation, and is now a survivor; someone who is by definition reactive and at the mercy of what’s happening around her.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t a trend (albeit one with only two data points, however there are so few prominent heroines in video games that even those two are significant.) In 2010’s Nintendo Wii game Metroid Other M the story line was written to focus on Samus Aran’s human, fragile side. The results were questionable. But why does this happen to female characters? Why has developing Kratos beyond simply bellowing “I’ll kill you!” or exploring whatever demons are in Mario’s past that compel him to rescue Princess Peach time and again ever been considered plausible avenues to pursue? I’m playing the supposedly brilliantly written Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the character of Adam Jensen is decidedly two-dimensional: he talks in a tough guy voice and really wants his girlfriend back.
For some reason, writers (or at least the untalented ones who write video games) feel that only women can be fleshed out as characters. And unfortunately they usually botch that up.
I guess there’s really only one good female in video games: